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Chapter 20

"Tracey was," Jason cleared his throat. “Tracey’s an electrician. She'll have a vehicle assigned to her that she picks up at the start of her shift. You'll be able to collect it with her ID."

Rebecca nodded but didn't allow herself to look at Jason as they spoke. They travelled on foot to the outskirts of the mud hut village to an area surrounded in chain link fence. There were countless vehicles packed into the dusty parking lot. From small utilities to larger trucks for transporting the ore. They approached the single entrance, a dilapidated chain link gate so rusted it didn’t look capable of movement. But this was wide open and there didn't appear to be any security. "Which one’s hers?”

Jason frowned at her question and then looked away as she met his gaze. “I couldn’t ask her, she was unconscious. It'll be with the electrician's vehicles." He pointed her through the entrance and over to one side of the yard.

Rebecca pushed herself to pick up her pace, in the direction Jason had indicated, so that she moved ahead of him. Her heart rate was up and she didn't think it was the growing heat. Perhaps having a knife held to her throat was the culprit. Or the fact she was about to break into a place she had no idea about, with a man who had lied to her and who now didn't even seem to know which vehicle was their ticket in.

All to rescue her mother. No image accompanied the thought and for that she felt a brief moment of guilt. She knew Jason had the photo of her but she was in no mood to ask to look. No matter what she thought of the woman she knew she had to get her out of the prison Jason had described.

A sick chirp sounded from one of the vehicles as she passed it.

"This one," said Jason.

"Yeah, I figured that."

The vehicle must have responded to Tracey's ID on her wrist and as she opened the driver’s door the engine started with a splutter. It was a utility vehicle with tyres. Tracey’s job apparently didn't warrant anything more high tech than that. Inside the cab was cluttered with papers and equipment. More of Tracey's equipment was packed into the enclosed tray on the back. The interiors were worn and dusty; it was in perhaps even worse condition than the rebels' vehicles.

Jason hadn't followed her into the cab, but was still outside, looking around as if searching for something.

Rebecca opened her door again. "Are you coming of not? I don't actually know where I'm going."

"I'll need an ID of my own to get into the mine."

Rebecca gritted her teeth. “Did you think any of this through before you dragged me out here?"

"Relentlessly. It hasn't really gone to plan. Alright, give me a minute..." Jason fixed his gaze on a mine worker accessing his own vehicle in the row across from them, about four vehicles down. "Excuse me," he called out to the man. He sauntered casually over to him. "You don't happen to have a smoke do you?"

"Seriously, mate? Do you have any idea how hard it is to..." The man got no further before Jason hit him around the head and then tossed him into the vehicle he’d been about to get into.

Rebecca swore under her breath and looked up and down the rows of nearby vehicles. Other mine workers were about, collecting their vehicles, but no one appeared to be close enough to notice the disturbance.

Jason jumped into the passenger seat and slammed the door heavily behind him. He began to fiddle with the ID he'd relieved the man of, attaching it to his left wrist, the opposite to where he wore his own protection bracelet. "Come on, go," he snapped.

Rebecca put the car into gear and pulled out. She wanted to get them away from the unconscious man but a speeding vehicle would be suspicious. "I hope you didn't hit him too hard,” she said, her jaw tense.

Jason paused in his fight with the ID's clasp. "No. He'll be fine. He gets to take a nap and he’ll still be logged as turning up for work.“

Their vehicle trundled out of the lot. "Now where?"

"Just follow everyone else."

A line of vehicles snaked over the dusty ground, down towards the mine. Crab like mining machines stalked the horizon.

"She's in one of those," Jason said, barely audible.

Before they could move out into the mine the line of vehicles stopped at a checkpoint. Rebecca leaned out the window to get a better work. "What's to stop us just driving in there? This security is shocking." The open mine wasn't cordoned off. It was vast, as far as Rebecca could see. Of course, they could hardly put a fence around the whole thing, but still.

"Don't look so excited," Jason grabbed her jacket sleeve and hauled her back in the window. "You're a mine worker. You do this to survive. And it's not really security. It's just to keep track that everyone is working when they're supposed to. But it'd still look suspicious if we drove around, so keep quiet.”

They made their way to the front of the line and they're IDs were scanned. Rebecca fought down the shake in her hands. But if the tired looking woman at the checkpoint noticed her nervousness, she didn't acknowledge it in the slightest; they got through without incident.

"Jason, do you guys ever try and do anything for the people here?"

"Like what? Look at all the Peacekeepers." There were three just past the checkpoint, in robot form. Their Controllers stood beside them, watching them silently as they passed. "You saw what only two of those did to Refuge. There might not be much security to get in, but if they had the slightest hint of the Leviathan or any other rebel ship near here they’d be all over us.”

Jason turned his attention back to the mine. "That one," he finally said, "that's the one Sam's in." He pointed to one of the machine’s moving its way across the mines surface. There were dozens of those huge robots. Monsters. Like giant crabs scoring the landscape for tidbits of food. They all looked the same, but some how Jason had picked the one they wanted in in mere moments.

"What are they?"

"Continuous miners. All they do is dig for ore. They never stop. To put a human in one..." He shuddered.

"How do you know that's her?"

"Because I know," Jason said coldly. “Look, I know I've made some mistakes. But I know which one they put her in, what it felt like." He adjusted the Control he wore on his hand. "That one feels right.”

"Okay, I'll take your word for it," Rebecca let out a sigh. Then added: “I’m still just kind of angry 'cause you lied to me."

"I don't blame you."

Rebecca adjusted the utility’s course towards the miner Jason had indicated. "Jason, I've only known it was my mother in there for a few hours but I don't want to leave her in there a second longer. If I'd been planning this for ten years, I don't know how desperate I'd be to get her out. Maybe it might make me do some stupid things."

He wouldn't look at her. He was still staring at the machine that was their destination. But he was listening.

"All I'm saying is I'm not... I'm not really as angry at you as I suppose I should be. If she's there we've got to get her out. And we wouldn't be here without whatever planning you did do. And I wouldn't be here if you hadn't come to the City to get me..."

"I just should have told you the truth earlier."

Rebecca shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."

“I just want to get her out of there."

It took them almost an hour to trundle across the landscape and reach the machine Jason had indicated. They wound their way through fissures and along embankments. Slowly the continuous miner drew nearer. It was a self contained unit. Spindly 'claws' reached down from its upper body, digging into and then transporting the ore along enclosed conveyer systems to the upper body. Here it was temporarily stored, until a large dump truck suspended on anti-gravs came and transported the ore away. When it had completed mining a certain part of the earth, the long legs allowed it to easily move itself to fresh pickings.

Rebecca felt tiny as she drew Tracey’s vehicle to a halt in the shadow of the monster. They parked about fifty meters back from one of its thin legs. Thin in comparison to the body. The supporting structure was perhaps the circumference of a medium sized tree trunk, but all metal and pistons and cables.

"Gods, they put her in that?"

"Yeah.” Jason's voice cracked.

There was no one around to see the small vehicle dwarfed beside the gargantuan continuous miner. The last dump truck had left but a few minutes ago and had paid their approaching vehicle no mind. The miner had some decent amount of storage in its metal belly that swayed high overhead, so another truck would likely not be back for some time.

"Okay," Rebecca drew in a breath. "Tell me what you want me to do."

"Break through the protection," Jason said simply.

Rebecca glared at him.

"Not," he said quickly, "like you did that Peacekeeper. This is going to be different. You should be able to see through the wall and get through to operate the miner. Then, once you're in, shut it down."

He fished around in his coat pockets and handed her the Control they were still in possession of.

Rebecca took it from him and slipped it on, chewing her lip as it adjusted to her hand. "Forgive me if I'm not exactly comfortable with doing this..."

Jason grasped her by the arm. "I'm not asking you to crash through like you obviously tried last time. The protection circuits on big machines like this probably pack that much more of a punch. And the technology is older. With the Controller's fused right into them breaking through the protection would probably kill the Controller so... take it easy. If what Sarah tells me is true the protection should be confused and if you take your time you should just be able to slip through. I hope." He released his grip on her and leaned back in his seat, drawing in a deep breath.

"Yeah, I'm nervous too," Rebecca said.

He didn't respond. Just stared at the creaking, humming machine in front of them.

Rebecca shrugged and did the same. She reached out her hand and concentrated.

Horatio had returned to Galilee some hours before. He wanted to follow up on how Julien was getting on with his new Peacekeeper. Just simple good customer service. Or so he told Julien.

What he really wanted to find out was whether there had been anymore news of Rebecca. Valerie had promised him she would keep his daughter safe. But in truth, Horatio was not sure she could be trusted. Rebecca would be protected only as long as it suited Valerie.

Horatio tried to keep his pacing under control. He was in Julien's plush office. Julien didn’t seem particularly interested in anything he had to say anyway. Instead he was watching security footage on his bank of screens.

“They are working perfectly, Horatio," he said. "It's not often I am impressed, but I am impressed. I mean, apart from the one that Jeffery lost, they have been perfect. And I assume you have the resources to replace that one."

Horatio stopped his bridled pacing and smiled faintly. "Of course." Julien had no idea.

"We may have the opportunity to test them further; you can watch. Valerie is returning momentarily. We've got visitors. I'm sure anything they try will be ineffectual. But when she comes to take care of them…”

Horatio frowned. "Visitors?"

"See for yourself." Julien stepped back from the bank of screens as he gestured upwards to the display.

The screens were so huge he hadn't really been blocking them in the first place. But neither had Horatio been paying them attention. The main feed, centre most, showed two mine workers in a beat up utility vehicle, next to one of the continuos miners.

"They may look like any other of my workers,” Julien folded his arms and grinned, “but they are not supposed to be there."

"Are you sure you should be just letting them in there then?” Horatio frowned.

Julien waved a hand dismissively. "There's only the two of them left now. We’ve already killed the third. Even though these two are likely Controllers they can't hurt the continuous miner. It's protection may be antiquated in comparison to the one you have on your Peacekeepers, Horatio. But I assure you it is completely functional."

"I'm sure it is..." Horatio began. Then he froze as his blood ran cold. He opened his mouth but found it was dry.

"Yes," said Julien. "That is Jason Gray." He had misread Horatio's reaction. "I'm sure Valerie will be pleased."

It wasn't Jason who had drawn Horatio's attention.

"Not sure who the girl is though," Julien mused. "Jason seems to be letting her do all the work. Not that it will do them any good."

Horatio stared at the screen, his mind churning over. The continuous miner, it had to be the one Valerie had put Sam in all those years ago. That was the only reason Jason had brought Rebecca here. She was the only one who could break through the miner’s protection. Horatio swallowed. He had never considered getting Samantha out. That was behind him. It was her own fault she was in there. She had betrayed him and her children. She’d left them. Could Rebecca actually release her?

"Valerie won't be long," said Julien. "She'll enjoy finally taking down Jason Gray."

"What?" Horatio started. "No..." his voice wavered. "No," he said more firmly. "You can't do that."

Julien raised an eyebrow and took a step towards him. "Excuse me?"

"You can't let Valerie kill them. She's... the girl, she could be useful to us."

Julien’s body tensed. “You're not in charge here, Horatio," he snapped. "I am in control of this mine! You are just some overpaid scientist who the System has commissioned to provide me with the tools I need to run the place. So don't tell me what to do! Those rebels are trespassing; they’re dangerous. You said so yourself. What's changed?" He glanced over his shoulder at the screen, and then a smile spread across his face. "Ah.. that's the miner Valerie put your wife in, isn't it? Still carry a flame I see."

"No," Horatio growled. But perhaps the man was right. At least partly. Maybe there was some desire to see the woman who had once been his wife freed. But it wasn’t the primary reason. "No, not her..." He glanced back to the screen, at his daughter.

"Tough. I give the orders and I say they're dead. That's how it works. You have no authority here."

Horatio balled his hands into fists. "You're going to kill them?"

"Valerie will. I'll give the order."

Horatio drew in a breath and nodded slowly. "Then I can't let you give that order." He raised a hand and focused on Julien.

"What are you..." Julien began. Then he clutched a hand to his left arm and made a spluttering noise. "Wait..." He collapsed to his knees and looked up at Horatio, eyes wide. "You’re… hijacking my nanites... but... I’m wearing protection..." He struggled with the bracelet on his wrist, checking it was connected properly. It made no difference; he was still flagging fast.

"I know," Horatio said calmly. "But I'm just an overpaid scientist, remember? Overpaid enough to know how to manufacture a Control that can bypass the protection I also helped create.”

Julien struggled. He gasped and shuddered and hugged his chest tight, and then he collapsed onto the floor.

Horatio lowered his hand.

The office door rattled and Valerie pushed her way in. "Julien! Where is he! Where's Jason Gray..." She trailed off as she saw Julien sprawled across his plush carpet. She stepped over and looked down at him, like he was nothing more than a distasteful smudge on the floor.

“Don’t tell me you couldn’t tell he was a problem, Valerie," said Horatio. “I had orders from the System." He lifted his hand slightly and deactivated the screens.

He should have simply switched the view. The sudden flash of light from the bank of screens brought Valerie's head snapping up. “What are you hiding, Horatio?" She turned her attention to the screens and reactivated them. Rebecca and Jason Gray reappeared.

"Your time's up, Jason,” she scowled.

"Wait," said Horatio. "You have to give them a chance..."

"To do what?" Valerie snapped, whirling around to face him.

"They're trying to get her out," Horatio said, fighting to keep his voice steady.

"What? Of course.” Valerie turned back to the screens. "Jason, you pathetic little..." She turned back to Horatio. "I have to kill him now!"

"Don't you see, that's why he took Rebecca in the first place..."

"Yes, I can see. What I can't see is why you care. She betrayed you, Horatio. For Jason Gray. And it was ten years ago."

"I just wondered if Rebecca could get her out."

"Tough, I've got a job to do," Valerie turned and strode towards the doors.

"Just... don't hurt Rebecca," said Horatio. He raised his hand towards her turned back. But nothing responded. She had no nanites in her bloodstream. Though she had lived in the City for so long, still there were none. Of course. She wasn't stupid.

"I plan to hurt Jason Gray," Valerie said with a frustrated huff. It didn't seem she had noticed his attempt to hijack her non existent nanites. "I'll assume your daughter is intelligent enough to stay out of my way."

And then she was gone.

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